After all of those years eschewing the Los Angeles area, the NFL now has two teams there. On Saturday, both will host preseason games on what many say is the only August weekend that even slightly matters.
The Rams host the Texans in an afternoon game, and four hours later the Chargers entertain New Orleans.
There’s actually some intrigue in Chargers-Saints, particularly for an exhibition game. For the second straight season, the teams went through two days of joint practices at the Chargers’ training camp complex in Orange County ahead of the preseason game.
Saints star quarterback Drew Brees once was San Diego’s starter, then was displaced by Philip Rivers. Brees has gone on to wild success and a Super Bowl championship in New Orleans, while Rivers has been a fixture behind center for the Chargers in San Diego and now in L.A.
“It was a tough set of circumstances, obviously, because they drafted him in 2004 to basically take my job,” Brees said on the Saints’ website. “I think everyone always tried to pit us against each other and couldn’t figure out how we could be friends or good teammates to one another in the quarterback room when we were having that type of competition, but we were.”
And they still are friends as well as supreme competitors.
“There’s no denying it was somewhat awkward,” Rivers said. “We both wanted what the other person was trying to get, and keep it from him. But at the same time we pulled for one another.
“It may not make sense, and I’m not sure any of that necessarily does. That’s kind of the way it went in those two years. I tried to be the first person to high-five him after a touchdown. But at the same time I wanted to be out there playing.”
Neither will be playing very long Saturday.
The Rams’ glamorous offseason additions are expected to play for the first time. Coach Sean McVay has been exceedingly cautious about using his starters in the preseason and could continue to hold out some veteran players, but receiver Brandin Cooks, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters are likely to see their first action.
Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson did not play in a 33-7 loss at the Rams last season because of a torn ACL, but will get to test himself against a Los Angeles defense still attempting to identify a starting outside linebacker. The Texans scored at least 33 points in each of Watson’s last five starts as a rookie, but failed to score more than 17 points in eight of nine games after he was hurt.
The biggest topic from the Chiefs’ perspective as they head to Chicago is coach Andy Reid gets to match up with his former offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, now in charge of the Bears.
“I’m proud of him for having the opportunity — I’ve watched his tape and he’s doing some good things with the team,” Reid said. “It’s a little like looking in the mirror when you look at his offense. He’s added a few little wrinkles but a lot of it is pretty similar.”
The Bears were hoping to have first-round draft pick Roquan Smith in his first action, but he barely practiced after ending his holdout. Starters or key players missing the game for certain are LB Leonard Floyd (broken bones in his right hand), and TE Adam Shaheen (right ankle and foot). Also possibly out: CB Prince Amukamara (ankle), DE Akiem Hicks (knee soreness), and TE Dion Sims (concussion).
While most fans will focus on the play of the Indianapolis and San Francisco quarterbacks, Andrew Luck and Jimmy Garoppolo, on Saturday, the coaching staffs might look more closely at their revamped secondaries.
The 49ers are eager to see cornerback Richard Sherman make his first appearance since tearing his Achilles tendon last season. The former All-Pro with Seattle joined San Francisco in the offseason.
“I’m more concerned about my game shape and making sure I can still go every single play because I haven’t played (since November),” Sherman said.
First-year Colts coach Frank Reich will get his first glimpse of his projected starting safety pairing.
Clayton Geathers, who missed most of 2017 after neck surgery, returned from a subsequent knee surgery in Monday night’s loss to Baltimore. Now, Malik Hooker, Indy’s first-round pick in 2017, is expected to make his first start since October after recovering from two torn ligaments in his right knee.
It would be the first time Geathers and Hooker have actually lined up together in game action.
“I’m going to be pretty excited, just from the journey we had,” Hooker said.
HOLD THAT LINE
Cincinnati’s offensive line struggled against the Cowboys last week, which was a bad sign after the Bengals spent the offseason overhauling it. The starting offense managed only two first downs — one on a scramble by Andy Dalton — in three possessions. If the right side of the line struggles again on Sunday vs. Buffalo, changes could be in store, especially at right tackle where Bobby Hart has had problems.
First-round draft pick Josh Allen gets his opportunity to secure the Bills’ starting job after showing progress in accuracy and decision making since the start of training camp. It’ll be Allen’s first start, and comes after the quarterback directed drives to a touchdown and two field goals in a 19-17 win at Cleveland. Allen has yet to face an opponents’ starting defense, and he’ll be playing behind a retooled offensive line that struggled against the Browns’ pass rush.
Coach Sean McDermott said some starters will play into the third quarter, though he didn’t specify QBs.
BACK TO PITTSBURGH
Mike Vrabel started his NFL career with the Steelers as the 91st pick overall in the 1997 draft. He returns with the Titans looking for his first victory as a head coach.
Vrabel says he kind of stumbled out of the blocks in Pittsburgh where he learned how to be a professional player from the likes of Dermontti Dawson, Mark Bruener, Jerome Bettis and Greg Lloyd.
“My first apartment was next door neighbors with Greg Lloyd,” Vrabel said. “I’m like going out after games and I’m like this is crazy, like I’m working out with this guy. So there were a lot of great pros on that team, Hall of Famers … They really showed the younger players how to be a professional one, how to be a Pittsburgh Steeler and what it meant to the Rooney family to represent that organization.”
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will make his lone exhibition appearance eager to “knock the rust off.” The 36-year-old modified his diet during the offseason and arrived in training camp noticeably slimmer, though don’t expect him to start ad-libbing in the pocket as he did a decade ago. Roethlisberger is content to let his right arm and his brain do most of the work.
RYAN VS. RAMSEY
All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey gets his first look at one of the many NFL quarterbacks he ripped recently.
Ramsey is back from a one-week suspension and slated to play when the Jaguars host Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons.
Ramsey has declined interview requests since rejoining the team Monday. He hasn’t spoken publicly since screaming profanities at media members who recorded a post-practice altercation involving defensive ends Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue. Three days later, GQ magazine released a Ramsey story in which he called Buffalo rookie Josh Allen “trash” and said Ryan was “overrated.”
Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he’ll be looking for his players to show they are game ready against Jacksonville.
“Are we playing with speed, playing with urgency and executing?” Quinn said.
Starters can expect to play “somewhere between three or four series or two quarters,” Quinn added.
Notable exceptions will be standout wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman, who are healthy but will be held out for the third straight week. Quinn also plans to protect them in next week’s final preseason game against Miami.
The Ravens have been a bad matchup for the Dolphins, who lost to Baltimore 38-6 in 2016 and 40-0 last year. They meet Saturday night in Miami.
Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, will see his most extensive action of the preseason. He hasn’t been hit in the first two games.
Newcomer Frank Gore, the NFL’s leading active rusher, is expected to play for the first time this summer.
Miami wants to see more from rookie tight end Mike Gesicki, who is battling for a starting job but has yet to catch a pass.
The Dolphins have allowed 299 yards rushing in the first two exhibition games, including 226 yards at Carolina, and 71 on one play.
For the Ravens, it’s all about the QBs. Joe Flacco has enjoyed a brief but solid preseason, and they’re trying to get Lamar Jackson up to speed, but he has been playing like a rookie and running dangerously. RG3 has been good, but the question is whether the Ravens will keep three QBs. This game might help them make a decision.
The Ravens appear prepared to start rookie Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle, but if he struggles in this game they may have to rethink it.
NO DRESS REHEARSAL LIKELY FOR DAK, ZEKE
The Cowboys could be without all four returning starters on the offensive line for what’s supposed to be the “dress rehearsal” game at home against Arizona on Sunday night. There’s a good chance that means quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott won’t play either.
In Prescott’s case, Dallas had a 16-play drive that went into the second quarter on his third series last week against Cincinnati. Coach Jason Garrett says that longer-than-expected stint also factors into whether he plays against the Cardinals. If Elliott doesn’t play, that means he will skip the entire preseason despite being healthy.
No. 10 overall pick Josh Rosen is a game-time decision for Arizona after injuring the thumb on his throwing (right) hand in practice. Sam Bradford, who has completed all seven passes in the preseason, is in line to start again.
If Prescott sits, the Arizona defense likely will go the entire preseason without facing a starting quarterback. San Diego’s Philip Rivers skipped the opener, and Drew Brees sat for New Orleans last week.
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